The 5 Things I Learned from Casey Newton

In a previous post I interviewed Casey Newton, creator of Platformer, about his writing process. This is what I learned in the interview.

1. Take Your Shot

This is partly something I learned prior to this interview and partly something Casey validated for me during the interview.

I asked Casey to be on the show, thinking he would fully decline (politely). To me, he seems like such a busy person so why would he “waste” it on someone like me. This is me not giving myself enough value.

I also felt like one of the reasons he was so receptive to me asking him to be on the show was because I had a different angle than others. Instead of just talking about how he went independent, I wanted to talk about his process. He even told me in the interview saying that I am the first person to ask him about how he does his work, which I took as a compliment.

So if you have someone that you want on your show, ask them to be on but have it be mutually beneficial if you can.

2. Have a system, and stick with it

Casey spoke at length about how he uses Notion and Roam in a system, and I noticed that he not only had a place for everything but he also had a well thought out reason for each decision, and he continually stuck with that system to accrue more value from it over time.

People who care deeply about notes are also the ones to jump ship every time something new comes along. While it can be fun to play around with the latest software, if you keep moving from one app to another it isn’t allowing you to have any real value accrue over time.

There will never be a perfect notes app, you just have to pick something that has flaws you’re willing to live with.

3. Be judicious with your tags and labels

One feature that most of the newest notes app have, including Apple Notes, is tags. If you have redundant tags, it can grind your note taking effectiveness to a halt. For example, if you have a tag like iPad and another tab like iPads you now have duplicate tags. So after some time you might be looking for something about the iPad but when you use your tags you now aren’t sure if the correct tag is iPad or iPads.

If you continue to maintain your notes like a garden your yield will be much more prosperous. So when you add tags, look to see if there are potential tags already in your system before making new ones.

4. Brain dump everyday

Casey mentioned about how he just brain dumps with Roam as a pseudo journal of sorts. This reminded me a lot about daily notes, which I am a huge fan of.

One thing that I know has helped me as a writer is to have a place like a daily note or even a scratch-paper app like Tot to quickly jot down something in my mind. Once it leaves my brain and goes into a note or onto a piece of paper my mind lets go of that thought completely. When I do this enough times the only thing left to think about are the big things. Things like my newsletter, my plans for my house projects, my goals for the next 5 years, things that need significant time for my brain to noodle on.

The items I captured earlier are still important, and I do indeed process them. Most of the time those quick thoughts either go into an ongoing note like one I have for house projects, or it goes into my task manager as something I should do.

Another benefit with daily notes is that sometimes a thought you had that seemed small can grow into something much larger. I have had multiple things pop in my head that sparked an interest of mine and caused me to write about it here on Tablet Habit. My piece about Regex, for example, was a simple thought I wrote down one day and after hours of playing around with Regex I decided to write about it.

Allowing my brain to stretch out a bit every day is the mental exercise I need to keep my writing and thought processing limber.

5. Just use a to-do app, they all do the same thing

Casey had a singular hot take about to do apps and it was that most to do apps are just meant to be glorified checklists and they all do pretty much the same thing. So instead of wasting your time fiddling with different apps you should just pick one and live with it. He used to use TickTick, but now uses Todoist. Just find one that is pretty enough for you and functions the way you want it and start using it. Embrace its flaws and make it work for you.